GRAY DOES THE BUSINESS FOR ROWETT
BIRMINGHAM boss Gary Rowett credited his side’s fearlessness for the margin of their victory over Reading, and you certainly couldn’t accuse Demarai Gray of playing with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The 18-year-old, with just two goals in his first 25 games for the Blues, hit a stunning hat-trick in 34 first-half minutes to effectively put the game beyond a disjointed Royals outfit who had chances but were cut apart at the back in a woeful defensive performance.
After Paul Caddis put Birmingham on their way in the fourth minute with a sweet finish from the edge of the box, it was the Gray show, the winger showing the full range of his skills to put the home side 4-1 up at the break despite Glenn Murray’s header midway through the period.
“We’ve took virtually every chance we’ve had,” said an enthusiastic Rowett, as his side bounced back from their sole defeat so far under his stewardship last time out at Blackpool.
“We exploited the spaces really, really well. Some of our counter-attacking football was absolutely brilliant.
“The pleasing thing for me is that we got back to our defensive shape, that strong shape, and played as a team. If we get that and teams have the ball against us, I don’t mind because it leaves spaces when we win it back.
“Demarai’s finishing was clinical. For him to score three in one game is absolutely brilliant.
“But he also put a shift in. He tracked back and helped his fullback out. It was a really good performance from him – as it was from the whole team.
“The players are enjoying themselves and playing with a lack of fear. We didn’t show any fear following the defeat at Blackpool. Obviously the early goals helped, but I was impressed and pleased with the way the players handled the game.
“They showed some real attacking flair and attacking ability, and I don’t think you can do that with fear.”
Caddis opened the scoring with a neat strike after a short free-kick from Jonathan Grounds.
Gray then added his first of the afternoon, driving at the back four before powering a shot past Adam Federici.
Murray briefly gave Reading hope on 19 minutes when he headed Jordan Obita’s cross from the left into the net, but Gray then weaved between two markers before slotting the ball past Federici as he came off his line.
And the England Under-19 international made it 4-1 in firsthalf stoppage time when he finished off a swift counter-attack by knocking home a ball from David Davies.
It was all Birmingham after the break, Andy Shinnie jinking in from the right and hammering a shot into the bottom corner.
Clayton Donaldson was then denied by Federici before allowing a David Cotterill free-kick to evade him and creep into the far corner of the net, to round off a miserable day for the visitors for whom Murray rattled the bar late on.
“Credit to Birmingham,” conceded Reading manager Nigel Adkins.“They’ve had a challenging season, so to get the result they have is all credit to them for turning it round.
“Goals change the complexion of games.We came here to be positive. Randolph has made a couple of good saves early doors. But Birmingham were clinical in front of goal. It’s a very disappointing day for us.
“Our heads didn’t drop. The young players in the team will gain valuable experience from this. I think we might have even had more chances than Birmingham, but it’s all about the score. Our goals against record is there for all to see.
“All teams have injuries. But I’m not going to hide behind them.We put a team out that we thought would win us the game.”
HAT-TRICK HERO: Demarai Gray is congratulated by Andrew Shinnie Inset: Gray scores his second